August 11, 2006
An interesting situation came up in one of my leagues this week, when the last place team of a 12-team league got a trade offer from the fifth place team. The last place team has no chance to compete--there are only three teams in this league that have a good chance. If you are the owner of the 12th place team, do you have an ethical obligation not to trade with one of the pseudo-contenders?
Your first duty has to be whether there's a rule in place preventing such a deal. In Tout Wars, the AL-only experts league that was the subject of Sam Walker's book Fantasyland, there's a rule that prevents teams more than five spots apart in the standings from trading with each other after July 31st. Other leagues do it on the basis of point-differential within the standings, while others have no restrictions at all.
Assuming there's no rule in place preventing such a deal, it's then time to look at the motivations for doing a deal. Is this a keeper league, where you can build for the future? If so, then there's nothing wrong at all ethically with making a trade with the fifth place team. You do what you can to improve your team for next year, and no other considerations should come into place. Your obligation is to your team first, the league next.
If it's not a keeper league, however, I think the bar is raised considerably, especially if this is a money league. Are you penalized for finishing in last place? In the RotoWire Staff League, we have a rule where the last four places pay a penalty, and I've seen other leagues where the very last place team pays an extra penalty. Admittedly, this is a keeper league and so this is in some part an anti-dump provision, but I've seen the rule in place in one-year leagues as well. In such a league, it also makes perfect sense to trade if it helps you better manage a category. If you don't have that motivation, you really have to consider the possibility of your trade affecting the competition for the money spots. If you don't have a legitimate chance to make the money, you should probably refrain from making that deal.
Please note that during all of this analysis, we haven't even evaluated the merits of the deal. That's the final step of this process. It's not just a matter of whether the deal is fair on its face, but when you're a last place team like this and this isn't a keeper league, you really should take a look at whether making the deal will shake up the categories significantly if you're in a 5x5 league. A trade of Mark Teixeira for Carl Crawford might very well be fair in a value-for-value context, but if the fifth-place owner is getting Crawford and can gain five or six points in stolen bases because of this trade (obviously, we're assuming the stolen base category is tight), you might still pause before pulling the trigger. I turned down a variant of this deal in the Yahoo! Friends and Family League with RotoWire colleague Chris Liss precisely because of these considerations.
It's no fun being out of the race in a given league, and it's even less fun to curtail your activities as a result of that. However, at the end of the day, you have an obligation to consider how your actions might influence the outcome of the league.
CDM vs. MLBAM
By now, you've probably heard about CDM's successful petition for summary judgment (warning: pdf) against MLBAM. I'm not going to delve into the details of the case or even the opinion. Remember, I'm a recovering attorney, not a practicing one. The ruling is undoubtedly good news for those of us who operate fantasy sports businesses, and I'm pretty convinced it's good for the general fantasy player as well. The real winners are the smaller niche fantasy games that have a pretty loyal following and won't have to worry, at least for a while, whether they'll be served with a cease-and-desist order from MLBAM's lawyers.
That doesn't mean this case is over, however. MLBAM, in a joint press conference with the Player's Association, already announced their intent to file an appeal. This could climb up a few more levels before we see a final resolution on this issue. One huge advantage that the folks at MLBAM have are their much deeper pockets, to withstand the lengthy and expensive legal process. We haven't seen the end of this.